Twin Palms. The Tilted Kilt. EMC.
One by one since the opening of Town Center Drive, the restaurants occupying the corner lot at Suite 110 have come and gone with the wind. It’s the rare establishment that can survive rising rents, increased competition and a saturated marketplace for affordable food in Santa Clarita, so residents have become accustomed to this vicious cycle.
The space’s haunted history does not seem to be hindering developers, however, even with the recent loss of EMC after less than a year in business there (for what it’s worth, EMC’s other Southern California locations appear to be thriving). Last month, Suite 110 became the new home of Black ‘N Blue, a streamlined steak (the “Black”) and seafood (the “Blue”) grill gunning for a top position in Valencia’s nightlife scene.
Lee Kan, the mastermind behind the space’s reinvention, may yet get his wish. Compared to EMC – whose departure was so swift that its banner is still on the check-out registers – Black ‘N Blue is sleeker and sexier, with a louche lounge straight out of a hookah bar and a dance floor for the late-night DJ. The array of too-bright hanging lamps which once blew out the dining area are gone, while the bar now boasts an otherworldly tangle of small lights that make it look like an extraterrestrial Christmas tree. Most importantly, the bathrooms are, for the first time in almost a year, fully cleaned and refurbished. If EMC was the Terminator, then its successor looks like the T-1000.
The restraining of EMC’s excesses is most evident in the shrunken menu, a tight two-sided affair with a smattering of pan-Asian and fine seafood offerings. For those concerned, the baby has not been thrown out with the bathwater: EMC’s signature dishes, like its beautiful, savory uni creamy pasta and oysters on ice with house-made cocktail sauce, are still available. But new to the menu is a focus on all-American standards gleaned from Kan’s work with places like Outback Steakhouse.
For the appetizers, that means serving your standard coconut shrimp, calamari and fried onion “petals” (a clever relative of Outback’s “Bloomin’ Onion”) alongside relatively exotic Korean BBQ-flavored chicken wings (sweet, and tangy at first, though ultimately just wings) and ahi tuna tare-tare [sic]. Seven cuts of steak comprise the main entrees, along with pork, chicken, ribs, salmon and various pastas – the usual.
It must be said, though, that there is legitimately handsome meat here. The preparations of the BNB Prime Rib and the bone-in ribeye, in particular, offer pleasures.
The prime rib ($16.99 for 10oz) smells of garlic cloves and mesquite wood, smoky and biting when dipped in tiger dill sauce. The spread is mostly unnecessary – especially if the prime rib is served immediately, still hissing from the roasting – but preferable for a sharper taste to the included au jus as timid as the plain white mug it arrives in. Add to the platter a side of pleasingly soppy mushrooms, and the meal is made.
While the bone-in ribeye is not quite the prime rib’s double at $28 for a 20-ounce cut, it does offer a more elegant counterpoint. The steak arrives fully black-peppered on an iron griddle, sizzling and sparkling with on both sides under a veil of butter. The bone is charred, but the meat itself is best medium-rare (as mine was, perfectly so), the better for its juices almost to caramelize the beef to the griddle.
Once its heat has cooled enough to eat, however, it must be finished in a sitting to prevent the butter from congealing. Though delicately applied to the cooking steak, the grease of twice-cooked butter overcomes even the ribeye’s richness if left to sit too long.
Then there is the minimalist drink menu which boasts a total of 12 cocktails, five of them mules. Those intrigued by the bar’s specialties will encounter several viable options: the aptly named Black ‘N Blue Martini is delightfully spicy, for example, a tasteful preparation meant for a happy hour sampling; on the other hand, the less mature but approximately 140 percent crazier Blue-Jito is useful on a sloppy evening. With its muddled mint, mango rum, curaçao and lime, the ‘jito is an indulgent mutant beverage – a half neon-blue drink, half dessert meant to inspire loose thoughts.
This dramatically shorter list is intentionally, if a touch cynically, driven by the belief that Santa Claritans will seek the restaurant out primarily for those evenings when decision making is secondary to casual boozing. The restaurant as it looks now intends to lure the late-night crowd that relies mainly on The Canyon, where drinks are both less generous and dramatically more expensive than they should be. At such time as the DJ begins to play (10 p.m., usually), Kan’s hope is that stragglers will open their first tabs and join him on the dance floor for unending Grey Goose martinis.
Despite how promising this all sounds, of course, the question must be asked: at what point does, “if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again,” cease to be good advice? It may be that like many an ambitious restaurateur before them, Kan and the proprietors of this new endeavor are fools even to try to breath sparks back into this accursed space.
For them to succeed, it will firstly need to work harder to differentiate itself from its damned predecessors – and that means maintaining the fixed-up bathroom, keeping the air conditioning functional and cultivating a trendier aesthetic in addition to serving elevated cuisine at current costs. If they can still manage that and keep the patio fire on every night, Black ‘N Blue just might stand a chance.
Black ‘N Blue. 24300 Town Center Dr., STE 110, Santa Clarita CA 91355. 661-288-9988.
Opens 4 p.m., 7 days a week. Sunday Brunch begins August 4, 2019 at 10 a.m..